Similarities between US and South Korean Politics



The 2023 Democracy Index published last month by The Economist placed the maturity of South Korea’s democracy 22nd among 167 countries. South Korea scored 8.09 points in the category of full democracies with eight or more points. The list of Asian countries included Taiwan, which placed 10th with 8.92 points, and Japan, placing16th with 8.40 points. The United States, the world’s strongest country, ranked 29th with 7.85 points. It failed to get more than eight points and thus fell into the category of flawed democracies. The U.S. and South Korea might be classified in different groups, but the two countries are only seven levels apart in the British ranking. The survey showed that the political status of South Korea and the United States, once the most exemplary of democracies, is close.

You can find many similarities between the current political state of both countries. Each is facing a significant election. South Korea will hold its general election on April 10 and the U.S. will hold its general presidential election on Nov. 5. Look closely at both political cultures and you’ll see even more similarities.

First, politicians are practicing extremely divisive partisan politics. In South Korea, the current political scene is being swept by the Manichaean dichotomy, which views the opponent as evil, such confrontation driving people to extremes. In the U.S., people are divided over racial discrimination driven by anti-immigrant sentiment and white supremacy, belying America’s reputation as a melting pot.

Second, irrational extremist supporters following along blindly have become a political force. Just as we have our Dog Daughters and the Taegeukgi uprising,* Trumpists, fierce supporters of Donald Trump, wield powerful influence in the United States. Fandom-like collectivism is gaining ground in both countries.

Third, politics that disregard the rule of law are spreading. In South Korea, there is a large number of people who have been held to answer for crimes in preliminary hearings who are seeking office in the upcoming general election. Even if they win election, they will have to relinquish their seats if they are ultimately convicted, but the number of such candidates is still unreasonable.

In the United States, the January 2021 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters who broke into Congress is an example of illegal political action. In particular, Trump incited a riot at the time despite the fact he was still in office. This event disgraced the image of the United States, a founder of modern democracy.

Fourth, the legal risks facing influential politicians present a huge variable in both countries’ elections. Just as the case against Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, could influence the general election, the Trump indictments portend an unpredictable U.S. election. Lee is currently on trial for allegedly giving preferential treatment to the development of Daejang-dong, and Trump is facing criminal charges by a special counsel in relation to inciting an insurrection, among other cases.

Finally, the leaders of the majority party and its opposition are not well liked. President Yoon Suk-yeol’s approval rating remains at about 30%, far lower than the 48% approval he received in the election, and Lee’s popularity isn’t very high either with certain exceptions. The upcoming presidential election in the United States is being touted as the most unpopular election of all time. A Reuter’s/Ipsos opinion poll reported that 67% of voters said that they would “choose the lesser of two evils.”

How do you explain these doppelganger political scenes? Is South Korea adhering to the political standards of the United States, or is the U.S. regressing to the level of South Korea? There is no easy answer. What is apparent is that nobody can feel proud about being equal to the United States, which was once the No. 1 country to emulate. On the contrary, there are many who feel angry and deeply disappointed about our politics. Voices calling for real political reform are also resounding loudly. This is why politicians need to maintain level-headed introspection and the wisdom to learn from other’s mistakes.

*Translator’s note: “Dog Daughters,” short for “daughters of reform,” refers to extreme female supporters of politician Lee Jae-myung. “Taegukgi uprising” is a reference to rallies that were held in support of former Korean President Park Geun-hye, so called for the Korean flag, called Taegukgi, that participants waved at the rallies.

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About Krystal Endo 9 Articles
Hello! My name is Krystal and I've been studying Korean for almost 10 years now. My Bachelors is in Linguistics, with a Minor in Korean and TESOL. I currently live with my husband, 2 cats and 2 snakes. I'm excited to translate for Watching America!

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